Have you ever been made to feel like you were a part of something, but you didn’t really belong there? Think about punters in the NFL. They’re on the team, but are they really football players? They come on the field 6 times a game to kick the ball and it’s a 15-yard penalty if anyone touches them. Sure, punters are on the team, but seriously? Can we really call them football players?
The Colossian believers were facing pressure from false teachers that was similar to this. These false teachers were “passing judgment” and “disqualifying” them (Col. 2:16-18). They were making the believers feel like they weren’t really spiritual if they weren’t following the Jewish ceremonial law (Col. 2:16-17) or doing the same mystical (and even pagan) practices that they were encouraging (Col. 2:18). Sure, the Colossians were Christians, but in order to be really spiritual, in order to be more than just punters on the team, they needed to do more.
The problem with this picture is that the Colossians were being told that they needed something other than Christ in order to grow spiritually. They were disqualifying believers that the Father has already qualified on the basis of the finished work of Christ (Col. 1:12-14). Paul’s response to this pressure from the false teachers is to turn the tables on them. They said that the spiritual lives of the Colossians were deficient, but Paul says that they are the ones with the deficiency because they are “not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col. 2:19). True spiritual growth is from God, through Christ, and it is for the whole body.
I think that believers in our context are prone to the same type of temptation. American Christianity is quite tribal. We like to pick a side that conforms to our theological and political views and look down on others that aren’t in our tribe. We would confess that other theological tribes are probably Christians, but we treat them and speak of them as if they aren’t really as spiritual as us because they don’t wear the badges that my tribe recognizes. Now, to clarify, this is a tension that we need to manage. There are a core set of essential beliefs that are “of first importance” (1st Corinthians 15:1-4), and if anyone rejects any of these beliefs, they really are not Christians. What I’m talking about, however, is the tendency of Christians within an orthodox framework looking down on each other over secondary doctrinal matters like eschatology, baptism, tongues, Calvinism, etc. We often treat others that aren’t just like us in these secondary matters as if they are beneath us and think of them as second-class Christians.
Paul tells us here in Colossians 2:19 that, in contrast to the spiritual elitism of the false teachers, the whole body grows with a growth that is from God. Not just an elite group of really enlightened ones. We are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. And this is precisely the lesson that we need to learn. Sure, there are different levels of spiritual maturity, and believing the truth about these secondary doctrinal matters can be a sign of genuine spiritual maturity. But the ground is level at the foot of the cross. In Christ Jesus, the bruised reed is just as loved by God as the most mature saint.
So don’t disqualify other believers on the basis of secondary matters. Have open and honest discussions about those things, but always remember that the person with whom you are talking is an adopted child of the King, regardless of whether they are in your tribe. This kind of love and humility is what will bring about genuine unity in the body and will be a shining example to an unbelieving world that we are Christ’s disciples.